12-book collage

The early-December COP21 international meetings in Paris are leaving many hungry for detailed insights into global decisionmaking on the “wicked” issue of climate change. Here are some current readings (three as free downloads) that can help readers do a deep dive. Happy reading and learning.

Book collage A

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change, by Kathryn Harrison and Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom, editors (The MIT Press, 2010; 328 pages; $27.00 paperback)

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions explains international action on climate change from the perspective of countries’ domestic politics. In an effort to understand both what progress has been made and why it has been so limited, experts in comparative politics look at the experience of seven jurisdictions in deciding whether or not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and to pursue national climate change mitigation policies. By analyzing the domestic politics and international positions of the United States, Australia, Russia, China, the European Union, Japan, and Canada, the authors demonstrate clearly that decisions about global policies are often made locally, in the context of electoral and political incentives, the normative commitments of policymakers, and domestic political institutions.

The Governance of Climate Change: Science, Economics, Politics, and Ethics, by David Held, Angus Harvey, and Marika Theros, editors (Polity, 2011; 256 pages; $24.95 paperback)

Climate change poses one of the greatest challenges for human society in the twenty-first century, yet there is a major disconnect between our actions to deal with it and the gravity of the threat it implies. In this volume the editors have assembled a unique range of contributors who together examine the intersection between the science, politics, economics and ethics of climate change. The book includes perspectives from some of the world’s foremost commentators in their fields, ranging from leading scientists to political theorists, to high profile policymakers and practitioners. They offer a critical new approach to thinking about climate change, and help express a common desire for a more equitable society and a more sustainable way of life.

Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet, by David G. Victor (Cambridge University Press, 2011; 392 pages; $44.99)

The science of climate change leaves no doubt that policies to cut emissions are overdue. Yet, after twenty years of international talks and treaties, the world is now in gridlock about how best to do this. David Victor argues that such gridlock has arisen because international talks have drifted away from the reality of what countries are willing and able to implement at home. Most of the lessons that policy makers have drawn from the history of other international environmental problems won’t actually work on the problem of global warming. This book provides a roadmap to a lower carbon future based on encouraging bottom-up initiatives at national, regional and global levels, leveraging national self-interest rather than wishful thinking.

Book collage B

Climate Change Negotiations: A Guide to Resolving Disputes and Facilitating Multilateral Cooperation, by Gunnar Sjöstedt and Ariel Macaspac Penetrante, editors (Earthscan/Routledge, 2013; 480 pages; $53.95 paperback)

Climate Change Negotiations: A Guide to Resolving Disputes and Facilitating Multilateral Cooperation asks how persistent obstacles can be down-scaled, approaching them from five professional perspectives: a top policy-maker, a senior negotiator, a leading scientist, an international lawyer, and a sociologist who is observing the process. The authors identify the major problems, including great power strategies (the EU, the US and Russia), leadership, the role of NGOs, capacity and knowledge-building, airline industry emissions, insurance and risk transfer instruments, problems of cost benefit analysis, the IPCC in the post-Kyoto situation, and verification and institutional design. A new key concept is introduced: strategic facilitation. “Strategic facilitation” has a long time frame, a forward-looking orientation and aims to support the overall negotiation process rather than individual actors.

What’s Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It, by Paul G. Harris (Polity Press, 2013; 296 pages; $22.95 paperback)

Paul G. Harris looks at climate politics as a doctor might look at a very sick patient. The book begins by diagnosing what’s most wrong with climate politics, including the anachronistic international system, which encourages nations to fight for their narrowly perceived interests and makes major cuts in greenhouse pollution extraordinarily difficult; the deadlock between the United States and China, which together produce over one-third of global greenhouse gas pollution but do little more than demand that the other act first; and affluent lifestyles and overconsumption, which are spreading rapidly from industrialized nations to the developing world. The book then prescribes several “remedies” for the failed politics of climate change, including a new kind of climate diplomacy with people at its center, national policies that put the common but differentiated responsibilities of individuals alongside those of nations, and a campaign for simultaneously enhancing human wellbeing and environmental sustainability.

Negotiating Climate Change: Radical Democracy and the Illusion of Consensus, by Amanda Machin (Zed Books, 2013; 176 pages; $34.95 paperback)

Climate change is the greatest challenge of the age, and yet fierce disagreement still exists over the best way to tackle the problem or, indeed, whether it should be tackled at all. In this original book, Amanda Machin draws on radical democratic theory to show that such disagreement does not have to hinder collective action; rather, democratic differences are necessary if we are to have any hope of acting against climate change. This is an important read for researchers, students, policy makers and anyone concerned about the current (lack of) politics in climate change.

Book collage C

The Politics of Global Climate Change, by Patrick M. Regan (Paradigm Publisher, 2015; 168 pages; $30.00 paperback)

In 2009, President Obama went to Copenhagen to sign a treaty requiring reductions by 50 percent over a two-decade period. The President came back with nothing: no firm commitment to reduce emissions and only a vague target to hold global temperature rises to under 2°C. How does a President who has a 75-vote majority in the House and a 19-vote majority in the Senate – who has pre-approval for a treaty reducing greenhouse gas production by 18 percent – not achieve a treaty with at least the minimum goal of 18 percent reductions by 2020? Others have answered the puzzle by looking at institutional designs or negotiation dynamics. This book articulates a multilevel process that starts with local politics to explain how they can influence international negotiations and why President Obama’s efforts in Copenhagen were doomed to fail. Understanding the role of local private interests can help form strategies for overcoming national resistance to climate change legislation and ultimately international agreements that could change the environmentally self-destructive course we are on.

EU Climate Policy Explained, by Jos Delbeke and Peter Vis, editors (Routledge, 2015; 152 pages; $39.95 paperback)

The EU has been the region of the world where the most climate policies have been implemented, and where practical policy experimentation in the field of the environment and climate change has been taking place at a rapid pace over the last twenty-five years. This has led to considerable success in reducing pollution, decoupling emissions from economic growth and fostering global technological leadership. The objective of the book is to explain the EU’s climate policies in an accessible way, to demonstrate the step-by-step approach that has been used to develop these policies, and the ways in which they have been tested and further improved in the light of experience. The book shows that there is no single policy instrument that can bring down greenhouse gas emissions, but the challenge has been to put a jigsaw of policy instruments together that is coherent, delivers emissions reductions, and is cost-effective. The book differs from existing books by the fact it covers the EU’s emissions trading system, the energy sector and other economic sectors, including their development in the context of international climate policy.

Power in a Warming World: The New Global Politics of Climate Change & the Remaking of Environmental Inequality, by David Ciplet, J. Timmons Roberts, and Mizran R. Khan (The MIT Press, 2015; 344 pages; $30.00 paperback)

A new set of agreements is likely to fail to prevent the global climate’s destabilization. How did we arrive at an entirely inequitable and scientifically inadequate international response to climate change? In Power in a Warming World, David Ciplet, J. Timmons Roberts, and Mizan Khan, bring decades of combined experience as negotiators, researchers, and activists to bear on this urgent question. Combining rich empirical description with a political economic view of power relations, they document the struggles of states and social groups most vulnerable to a changing climate and describe the emergence of new political coalitions that take climate politics beyond a simple North-South divide. They offer six future scenarios in which power relations continue to shift as the world warms. A focus on incremental market-based reform, they argue, has proven insufficient for challenging the enduring power of fossil fuel interests, and will continue to be inadequate without a bolder, more inclusive and aggressive response.

These last three books, produced by NGOs that participate in UNFCCC negotiations, are available as free downloads (see links below).

Book collage D

Building International Climate Cooperation: Lessons from the Weapons and Trade Regimes for Achieving International Climate Goals, by Ruth Greenspan Bell, Micah S. Ziegler, Barry Blechman, Brian Finlay & Thomas Cottier (World Resources Institute, 2012; 196 pages; free PDF download)

What might negotiators in the third decade of building collective action to address climate change learn from the experience of negotiators who manage other problems that by their nature require global action? This report contributes to this question by examining two such negotiating areas where considerable experience has been gained in devising agreements and institutions. The first is control of weapons of mass destruction, a field relatively unknown in the climate change world. The second, multinational economic arrangements, is more familiar ground but an area that warrants deeper examination. Although such arrangements have not “solved” weapons or economic challenges, notable progress has been made since the middle of the 20th century, and thus these arrangements offer valuable insights for climate negotiators.

Greenprint: A New Approach to Cooperation on Climate Change, by Aaditya Mattoo and Arvind Subramanian (Center for Global Development, 2013; 130 pages; free PDF download)

International cooperation on climate change has floundered. With mutual recrimination between rich and poor countries, the zero-sum arithmetic of a shrinking global carbon budget, and shifting economic and bargaining power from old CO2 emitters to new – what Aaditya Mattoo and Arvind Subramanian call the “narrative,” “adding up,” and “new world” problems – the wonder is not the current impasse but belief that progress might be possible at all. Each of these problems must be addressed in a radically different way. First, the old narrative of recrimination must give way to a narrative based on recognition of common interests. Second, leaders must shift the focus away from cutting emissions to generating technology. Third, the old “cash-for-cuts” approach must be abandoned for one that requires contributions from each country calibrated in magnitude and form to its current level of development and future prospects.

Towards a Workable and Effective Climate Regime, by Scott Barrett, Carlo Carraro, Jaime de Melo (Vox EU, CEPR Press, 2015; 532 pages; free PDF download)

This year, for the first time ever, nearly all of the world’s countries are making pledges to help limit future climate change. As of 1 October, 147 countries (representing about 85% of global emissions) have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. These pledges, if carried out in full, are expected to lower emissions relative to the “business as usual” forecast. However, they are not expected to prevent emissions from increasing above today’s level through 2030. To meet the global goal of limiting mean global temperature change to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial level, much more will need to be done after 2030. Eventually, emissions will have to fall to zero worldwide – either that, or countries will need to remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. This new Vox eBook looks into what needs to be done to build a climate regime that is both workable and effective.

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is the Yale Climate Connections books editor. He is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since...